At All Souls Preparatory School, Martin is bullied and unhappy. In fact, Martin’s life stinks all around. His mother and father are separated, his father’s drinking problem finally driving him away from the family. His beloved grandmother dies within the first few chapters and Martin has taken to hiding in his dreary basement where he is having odd visions of a boy from the past.
Although the boy, Jimmy Harker, says that he is from the past and that he needs Martin’s help, it will take some proving as he leads Martin through a series of Da Vinci Code-like research mysteries to confirm his presence. It is Jimmy’s question of, “What did you do to help?” that motivates the plot and provides the backdrop for Martin to emerge from his depression on a historical hero-styled quest.
London Calling is an ambitious novel. It hits three genres squarely and offers multi-layered themes while switching through present and past settings. Mr. Bloor is an excellent writer and manages to keep the genre-setting-time-plot hopping in check, but he does so at the expense of character development. The multi-layered themes are excellent for discussion, especially for social studies educators.
One theme, the father-son struggle, has both Martin and Jimmy dealing with “daddy issues” that need resolving in order for their souls to progress. In fact, the grandfathers in Martin’s life also play a role in shaping who he is and who he might become. Another strong theme is the religion / humanist struggle. The religious characters are less than pious and those once great men held in high esteem appear more sinful than those on common stature. Still another lofty theme is the difference between what is written and what is known about historical events and what really happened. This ties with the theme of the righteous, privileged man versus that of the common man, and the sacrifices each make and how they are historically recorded through time. Thrown into that already overwhelming theme is the added question of what makes a real hero. Jimmy’s coming-of age heroism might rewrite history, but it’s the poignant epilogue that brings the tears.
London Calling has all the great themes from which teachers and librarians love to choose books, and I suspect London Calling is a favorite of several. However, the novel's weakness is its inability to click with the youthful reader. A few strong readers, especially those lovers of historical fiction, will enjoy the story; but its broad message and intricate execution limit mass appeal.
For history classrooms and historical-mystery fiction readers.
-------------------- Resources --------------------Genre: Historical Fiction & Mystery. Age: 9-12. Pages: 304.
Themes: Depression, Family, Individuality, Father-Son Issues, Religious Symbolism, Overcoming, Societal Injustice. Publisher: Knopf. Date: September 2006. ISBN-10: 0375836357 ISBN-13: 978-0375836350.
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